Program Atmosphere

I enjoy basketball, so naturally this is one of my favorite times of the year: March Madness!  This past weekend, I tried to squeeze in as much basketball watching time as I could without camping in front of a TV for four days.  As chance would have it, I was able to see a majority of the North Carolina vs. Iowa State game…but while I was flying home.  Because I was on a plane, I was watching the game without any volume, which gave me a unique perspective to how the game ended.

For those of you who didn’t see it, I’ll recap what happened.  Iowa State made a driving lay-up to go ahead by 2 with 1.6 seconds on the clock.  North Carolina quickly in-bounded the ball to a player who dribbled up to half court and then tried to call timeout.  As he was trying to call timeout, the game clock expired giving Iowa State the win.  Or did it…???

Here’s what I saw and noticed watching it live: when the UNC player started dribbling up-court with 1.6 seconds remaining, the clock didn’t immediately start; in addition, UNC Head Coach, Roy Williams, was going bonkers trying to get a timeout called as quickly as possible.  As time expired, one of the officials was in the process of signaling for the time out.  After the horn sounded, there was a lengthy period of time while the officials reviewed the game film and conversed on the court about the ruling.  Eventually, the game was ruled to be over, and ISU did indeed earn the win.

Again, I didn’t have the volume on while all of this was going on.  I watched multiple replays in real time and in slow motion without hearing the commentary of the announcers; in addition, I’m not familiar enough with the replay rules to know what officials can and can’t look at during the replay.  There were two things that I saw for certain: (1) the clock didn’t start on time, and (2) UNC appeared to have called timeout before the delayed clock had expired.  While the officials were working through the replay process, Coach Williams was frantically drawing up one last play to give UNC a chance to tie or win.  Eventually, the officials called both coaches to center court to explain their final ruling.  That’s when I saw something that put a huge smile on my face:

Coach Williams nodded, briefly slumped, then stood up straight, shook the ISU coach’s hand, and started congratulating the ISU players.

If there was ever a time for a coach to lose his mind, this was it.  Without knowing the terms of Coach Williams’s contract, I can almost guarantee that winning that game would have triggered a monetary incentive for him.  His players, some of whom won’t play for UNC again, had their careers abruptly ended.  And, one of the most storied programs in college basketball history did not qualify for the Sweet 16, a tournament level for which they always seem to make.  Amid all of that, Coach Williams nodded and started shaking hands.  Any guess as to what the Carolina players did then?  With tears in their eyes, they stood up straight, walked over to the ISU players, and started shaking hands.

I’ve seen high school coaches of all shapes, sizes, and temperaments.  I’ve seen hollerers and screamers; I’ve seen pacers; I’ve seen those who talk constantly; I’ve seen those who seem to never say a word; I’ve seen those who “work” the officials non-stop; I’ve seen those who don’t even seem to know there’s a game being played…and I could go on and on.  One thing that seems to be consistent, though, is that a coach’s players (and, ultimately, the fan base) take their behavioral cues from their coach.

Think about it.  I’m guessing that most of the time you’ve seen a team with kids who whine about calls, pout about bad plays, get way over-excited about average plays, etc., you’ll see a coach acting the same way.  I’m also guessing that if you can recall a team who acts like that with a coach who acts like that, you probably saw the stands full of fans who acted like that.  I spoke in a previous blog about being a coach that you’d want your players to copy; the same holds true for in-game behavior.  How you act as a coach during a game, so will your players act.

As a coach, do you complain about factors out of your control?
As a coach, do you treat officials respectfully?
As a coach, do you treat opponents respectfully?
As a coach, would you be proud of the way you act if you were viewing it as an outsider?

It’s a big task – keeping your emotions in check in a competitive environment – but think of the payoff.  How will the kids you coach eventually treat setbacks in their professional lives?  How will they treat relationships with their bosses?  Their co-workers?  Their competitors?  As teachers and as coaches, we can teach our kids to work on the factors they can control and learn to deal with the factors they can’t.  To Coach Williams’s credit, after he had a chance to watch the play on video and take some time to assess the situation, his only comment was that they didn’t call timeout with 1.6 to play when they should have.  If you were one of his players (or fans), how could you argue with that level of accountability?  Coach Williams took the opportunity to give his players a true teachable moment instead of going bonkers about winning a basketball game.

That’s a coach worth copying.

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